I grew up on an average farm in Nebraska. We’re not the biggest or the smallest. We’re not the oldest farm family in my area, and we’re certainly not the newest. My dad is the principle operator, and he’s close to the average age of a farmer in the United States – which is 58 years old.
Marketing people like averages. We use them to make a lot of assumptions. Fifty-eight years old places a farmer in the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1964). This generation of farmers tends to view farming as a life-long job rather than a lifestyle or hobby, so their brand loyalties are less tied to nostalgia (“I buy John Deere tractors because I grew up with them”) but more informed by return on investment.
My dad doesn’t have a Facebook account, despises getting spammed by email marketers and prefers talking on the phone or face-to-face with a product dealer. He reads the physical newspaper every morning and subscribes to nearly 15 different agricultural magazines.
Knowing the average American farmer helps one formulate a simple communications strategy, right? To reach the farm audience, we would target product dealers and brand reps, drive campaigns in magazines and through direct mailings, and sprinkle in a little bit of digital just for good measure. Done.
But, an average doesn’t capture the whole story of American agriculture. Some farms operate with five generations active in daily activity, each generation consuming media and communicating differently. While the principle operator might have the final say on what products to use, the others will eventually take leadership roles on the farm and are currently forming opinions on brands and products.In agricultural marketing, we must meet each generation where they communicate with information they value.Click To Tweet
The Matures (pre-1945)
Known as the most loyal generation, the Matures/Silents are dedicated to the brands they’ve been using for years. I think about how my grandfather talks about Angus cattle – he believes Angus is the best breed and doesn’t see a reason why anyone would raise a different breed. His loyalty is based on years of trust and personal connection with Angus product.
Matures value personal connections with dealers and retailers and appreciate personal sales calls. Although this generation may not have a hand in the day-to-day operations, their opinions still influence farm decisions. Stick with traditional media and sales calls when reaching this group.
Gen-Xers are sometimes considered the first entrepreneurial generation, and tend to be highly individualistic, forward-thinking, and business-minded. Therefore, this generation is comfortable switching brands every year because of the desire to embrace innovation, try something new and exciting, or capture a better price.
They embrace texting, email and social media because of efficiency, and their social networks exist online. They value peer-to-peer reviews of products, so ratings, reviews and testimonials are important.
A millennial myself, I can tell you my generation constantly engages with technology, and thus engages more extensively and personally with brands than older generations. Although this generation currently has limited authority on the farm, their habits are shaping marketing due to growing presence in the marketplace. Brand loyalty for this generation is often based on more than just brand performance – a brand’s social values are often considered when making decisions.
Social media and digital are main forms of communication for Millennials. Fast, informal, attention-grabbing information cuts through the constant noise. When it comes to making decisions, they prioritize social circles for information – peer-to-peer feedback still dominates.
This generation is active on the farm most times as a general farm laborer and remains important in the marketing conversation because of their direct contact with products and brands through work. Their brand experiences now will continue to shape how they feel about brands later. They tend to side with brands that engage them and invest in their future. Technology’s possibilities are endless according to Gen-Z.
Gen-Z is constantly active on social media and they have extensive online networks, mainly on mobile platforms. Keep them in mind and engage with the organizations – 4-H and FFA – that are shaping their perceptions of agriculture.
Better Than Average
Results from the Census of Agriculture, conducted by the USDA every five years, release early next year. New averages will be reported regarding types of farmers, what they’re farming and most certainly, their age. We’ll devour that information, using it to draw comparisons and conclusions about who is farming and how we can market our products to them. But I’ll also think about my dad and the growers I’ve met because behind every number, there are real people and real farms working to feed the world.
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